Some people, it seems, want to write in order to sit on a pile of writing. They see the act of writing as an almost “necessary evil” – a means to an ends – in order to reach some tangible representation; an end result. “I want to write a novel,” they’ll say, though don’t know what it’s about. Like “I want to run a marathon, so I guess I’d better start running.”
I don’t write like that. Some runners don’t run like that, either. They run purely for the love of running – or, perhaps, to satisfy some other daily need, to de-stress, perhaps.
For me, writing accomplishes two very important things:
First, writing alleviates the burden of carrying the idea around. I write to release the tension of the idea; to rid myself of the mental baggage. Writing, in this sense, is a basic need; a way to free myself for moving forward. If I don’t write, scraps of an idea will cling to areas of my thought process, injecting itself into other tangents, tugging at my attention until I validate it somehow, process it, and set the little creature down. My writing is an act of moving through ideas more quickly, clearing things and making room for others; keeping the mental space a fresh, always-churning palate. Writing is looking at a little beast and saying, “Alright, you. Yes, I acknowledge you. I have given you a name and set you free. Now run along.”
Second, writing helps me develop the idea. As I said, sometimes the idea is just a fragment or a question – something to be pieced together or thought through. So after I first bring the little beast to the forefront of my mind and acknowledge it, I am also turning it over, as though to say: “here, let me have a look at you. Let me see what you are.” I bump it against a working context, built up through this ongoing process, and try to define its edges and see how it fits in.
So, my writing is rarely about the curation (or perfection) of some precious artifact. In fact, quite the contrary: it is not a preoccupation with capturing something, but rather a need to release it; to process it, see it for what it is, and then set it down, lighten the mental load, and allow myself to move on to other things.
In understanding the value behind this “release” and its role in my ability to continue to function and move forward, I might liken it to some sort of machinery. You have to allow the release of what these things give off; you cannot, say, contain or ignore the exhaust of a locomotive. Doing so eventually stifles and kills their entire functionality. You have to allow for this in order to for the engine to go on working.
This shift in perspective was my biggest takeaway from writing one million words in 2013. First: writing like that – in order to hit a word count – didn’t yield pieces that were very worthwhile. Writing to build a stock pile is meaningless. And, as such, I realized that the stockpile is meaningless: that if I lost the entire curation of words – all one million of them – it wouldn’t matter; I still had the gains of the creative process itself. And that’s the point.
Blogger Sarah Kathleen Peck wrote a beautiful piece on this, in which she asks of us: “are you in love with the product? Or the process?”
“Sometimes, as writers or as makers, we become obsessed with the outcome. The work itself as object, as product – not as process.”
To combat this, she urges aspiring writers to focus on the act of writing, not on the aspiration to have something written.
“Instead of creating perfection, we write just to write. Learning to write isn’t about beautiful sentences pouring off your mental fingertips; it’s about creating a habit and a relationship to the process.”
“The act of making is about the act of making, not the outcome.”
Write to move through things. In freeing the ideas, and freeing yourself from them, you create a high churn – a fertile environment for new ones.